The plan comes as officials say there has been a significant rise in overdose deaths in Toronto.
Toronto Public Health is hosting a series of public consultations this week to gather community input on the Toronto Overdose Action Plan, a set of recommendations for actions to mitigate the rising opioid overdose crisis.
The consultations—held in downtown Toronto, North York, Scarborough and Etobicoke—gives people a chance to offer feedback on the current draft of the Action Plan, which already includes nine specific recommendations. They include making drug-testing programs available for people to test illicit drugs for the presence of unexpected contaminants such as fentanyl, eliminating barriers to calling 911 for medical assistance during an overdose, and addressing social factors that can lead to overdose.
Mayor John Tory and city councillors Joe Cressy (Ward 20, Trinity-Spadina), and Joe Mihevc (Ward 21, St. Paul’s West) spoke at the opening downtown Toronto consultation meeting at the Metro Central YMCA on Monday. Last summer, Toronto City Council approved three supervised injection sites in Toronto, and in January, the Province agreed to fund the harm-reduction sites.
The finalized Toronto Overdose Action Plan is set to be submitted to Toronto’s Board of Health in March.
Toronto Drug Strategy Secretariat manager Susan Shepherd says overdose prevention is a major policy priority, and consulting people who work with drug users—as well as drug users themselves—is an important part of determining the way forward.
“It is urgent. We’re losing a lot of people now, and we need to do more. We also want to be proactive and be able to respond as the situation gets worse as the drug supply in Toronto changes,” she said. “Every level of government is working on this, but we need to do more.”
B.C. declared a public health emergency in April 2016 after a surge in overdose deaths related to opioids such as fentanyl. Officials in the province have been struggling to contain the dangers of illicit opioid use, but overdose deaths continue to increase: more than 900 people died of overdoses across B.C. in 2016, with December the worst month on record, with 142 deaths.
Shepherd says it’s crucial to take action to make sure the death rate in Ontario doesn’t follow the same alarming pattern.
“I hope that by some of the measures that we’re taking that we don’t see that,” she said. “Regardless, the state of the situation we have now isn’t acceptable and we need to do something.”
According to Toronto Public Health, the City saw a 73 per cent increase in the reported number of overdose deaths between 2004 and 2015. Those are made up primarily of accidental deaths, and opioids accounted for two-thirds of the accidental deaths in 2015. Deaths from fentanyl also doubled between 2014 and 2015.
Shepherd says it’s important to get a variety of perspectives on the issue of overdose deaths to ensure the needs of different groups in different locations across the GTA are being considered.
“We don’t want to suppose that we have all the answers. We want to make sure we go to the community — different parts of the community, different areas of the city to make sure we’re learning about the issues,” she said. “Especially for people who use drugs—we should be developing policies and programs with their input.”